5 tips to help you be heard

To be heard, you need to listen, learn, and think like the person you’re trying to reach. Five tips to help you get through and make the most of your communciations.

The increasingly unread newsletters piling up in your inbox are a clear indication that “communications” is catching on in our field. Once relegated to the commercial and sales sectors, more and more NGOs are seeing the value and purpose of communications (read more about that here). But communicating about one’s work is only worthwhile if what you are saying is actually being heard (or read, or viewed, or watched…). So before developing your next communications product, consider these tips that can help your message stand out from others:

1. Listen first to better understand.

What are people saying about your work? What questions are they asking you? What’s ‘trending’? Don’t just assume people want to know about the things you want to tell them. Instead, you need to get to know your audience(s), in terms of what currently concerns them, what questions they have, what they care about, what their core interests and motivations are.

  • Ask your team what questions they get at meetings, or what topics or events they’re discussing with their peers.
  • Review comments, shares, and likes on your social media accounts.
  • Visit others’ social media accounts (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) to give you a quick idea of what matters to them now. Of course, you can’t do this for every single audience member, but select some key players and really listen to what they are telling you.

2. Put yourself in their shoes.

You cannot assume that people will have a lot of time for your communications product. Put yourself in their shoes to help determine which medium, what length, and which message will best resonate.

  • Who is this person exactly?
  • What is their day like?
  • When and how will they see/view/read your product?
  • Will this person care enough to open an attachment or do they need to see the main message in a headline, a GIF, or a photo?

3. The “grandmother” trick – with a grain of salt.

You may have heard of the “grandmother” trick: develop your communications in a way that even your grandmother can understand them (this assuming that your grandmother is not well informed about the topic you’re communicating about). This trick is helpful as it forces you to cut out jargon and make your content more accessible to a wide audience. However, you also don’t want to fall into the trap of oversimplifying things, which could risk watering down your message or even compromising your credibility. Once again, by putting yourself in your audiences’ shoes, you can understand how much information is too much or too little. But as a matter of practice – avoid jargon whenever you can!

4. One size doesn’t fit all.

What works for one audience may not work for another. If you are developing a newsletter, you may need to send out different versions of it to different audiences depending on the amount and type of information these audiences want/need. Alternatively, a newsletter might be the right platform to reach one audience, but you may be more effective reaching a different audience with the same message using Facebook. Knowing your audience (see tips 1 and 2) will help you sort this out.

5. Listen. Learn. Revise.

And here we are again – listen. Once you’ve completed your communications product or activity, the work isn’t over. Instead, you want to know if you’ve been heard. Collect feedback from your team, scan your social media metrics, monitor the dialogue around your topic. Is your message getting through? Are people listening to you? What can you change?